Thursday, August 20, 2009

Top Stories: 8/20/09

Voting has wrapped-up in Afghanistan and ballot tallying is expected to be finished tomorrow. Reports suggest that turnout is lower than expected - Afghans are thought to be concerned about Taliban violence and not willing to risk their life for an election with so many accusations of fraud surrounding it. The good news for President Karzai's rivals is that turnout is disproportionally low in the south, where his base of support is. That suggests that there could very well still be a run-off election.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) - widely considered a 2012 presidential candidate - is grabbing more and more headlines. Politico reports that the healthcare issue has been his primary way of getting in the spotlight and pleasing the conservative base he'll have to appeal to in a primary.

The Huffington Post relays Rush Limbaugh's response to the video of Barney Frank insulting a constituent, and - you guessed it - it's pretty tasteless.

Andrew Gelman of presents an interesting study of how people identify with a particular political party. In short, it has to do with an individual's income relative to their ideology.

And here are last night's political jokes:

An administrative note: Over the next two weeks, WAYLA will only be bringing you the morning's top stories. We'll return with regular posts after Labor Day. There will also be no post tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Preview of Tomorrow’s Election in Afghanistan

It seems like only yesterday we were previewing the heated elections in Iran that soon turned into chaos as demonstrators took to the streets in protest. In the end, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad controversially won.

While the results were disappointing to most in the world, it was interesting to see how the democratic system played out in the Islamic Republic.

Tomorrow there will be another closely watched election in Iran’s neighbor to the east, Afghanistan, where NATO forces have been fighting since 2001 and democracy is still in a very infant stage.

So we thought we would answer what could be some Frequently Asked Questions about the campaign in this distant land.

What Similarities Are There Between Elections in Afghanistan and America?

While this is only Afghanistan’s second presidential election - and the first ever truly contested presidential race - the top campaigns are using some tactics that Americans are very familiar with. They’ve had presidential debates, campaign ads on television and radio, and even campaign memorabilia.

While the top candidates - incumbent President Hamid Karzai, former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former Planning Minister Dr. Ramazan Bashardost, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani - have not been able to travel to many parts of the country for security reasons, they have been able to connect with voters through other forms of communication.

Television and radio are widespread, and many Afghans are paying close attention to the race with these media. Just take a look at this TV ad for the Abdullah campaign:

There has been some attempt to contact voters via telephone, but only about 5.5 million citizens have cell phones or land lines. That’s not very helpful considering over 15 million citizens are registered to vote this year.

And although internet is not widespread - less than a million Afghans have access to such technology - all three of the top campaigns have reasonably flashy websites that resemble those of our own politicians, complete with biography, issues, and - most importantly - contribution pages.

And some campaigns have taken the cue for “professionalization” of their campaigns by hiring political consultants. Ghani, for example, hired former Bill Clinton campaign manager, James Carville. The cajun consultant talked to Stephen Colbert about it recently.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Yes We Afghan - James Carville
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

Finally, Afghan voters have one extraordinary characteristic in common with their American counterparts - they identify more with their country than their ethnicity, something not as common in other Islamic countries. Richard Sexton of relayed this poll in a post last week.

How Are Elections in Afghanistan Different?

There are a great number of differences between the U.S. system and the Afghan system. One of the more noticed peculiarities of the Afghan elections so far is how they’ve been moving ballots across the country. A few days ago it was reported that donkeys had become a significant source of transporting ballots to polling stations.

Meanwhile, one U.S. soldier writes a fascinating blog post about his time helping Afghan troops assisting the movement of ballots in the volatile northeastern region.

“…on our way to pick up the ballots yesterday, we got in a nice little enemy engagement, which resulted in one of our trucks getting a tire shot out, two antennas blasted off and a round of indeterminate caliber (we’re still debating what size it had to have been) cracking up our windshield. Armor is a good thing to have when the element of surprise is not on your side. The firefight was a nice way to welcome our recently-arrived replacements to the joys and adventures of life in Afghanistan.

We should have good security for most of the ballots and polling sites, but a few of those ballots are going to be headed a little further up the road into country we don’t venture…and are not going to venture for this election. The Afghan National Police (ANP) refuses to escort the ballots around here without our help, and in this case we’re not helping.”

In the end of the post, he writes “I’m just thankful I get to be here to see how this thing turns out.”

Another obvious difference is that it’s - for all intensive purposes - a four-way race. The winner tomorrow will have to secure a majority to avoid a run-off - something that doesn’t appear entirely likely based on the polls so far.

Even more significant, many voters don’t seem to want to change their support when a run-off comes.

Of course, depending on the events of the election, some voters may still change their minds.

What Threats Are There to the Election?

The most obvious threat is the possibility of violence. The Taliban has not only boycotted the elections, but they’ve been increasing their terrorist efforts to disrupt the democratic process. In fact, six poll workers have died since yesterday alone.

The other threat is corruption. Karzai supporters - including his half brother, Wali Karzai (head of the Kandahar province provincial council) and Sher Mohammad Akhundzada (a member of Afghanistan’s upper house) have not only been accused of involvement in the opium trade, but also of buying votes for the incumbent President.

While election observers will be on hand throughout much of the country, about 30% of the nation will not have observers because of security threats. Some say that after the results are tallied the situation could be similar to the aftermath of elections in Iran earlier this summer.

Who is Most Likely to Win?

The polls taken so far, and the media reports of corruption, seem to point to a Karzai victory - if not tomorrow then at least after a run-off. Sexton says that the polls might “better approximate the Afghan public sentiment than the results will” because of the corruption issue, but either way, it would appear Karzai will likely be the winner.

Of course, the polls might not be entirely accurate. After all, there will be over 15 million votes cast tomorrow, and only 5.5 million Afghans have telephones. So if other candidates stand to benefit from a higher proportion of voters without phone access, we could see a different outcome. We’ll really just have to wait and see.

Do you have any other questions about the election tomorrow? Leave a response with your question and we’ll try to answer it!

Top Stories: 8/19/09

Politico's 44 reports that RNC Chair Michael Steele says he's unsure if healthcare reform will create 'death panels' on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

Meanwhile, a new NBC News poll finds that Americans are becoming more and more confused and divided about healthcare reform. Many believe outright false rumors, including the four debunked myths below.

See some of the other findings:

To help explain, Robert Reich - former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton - tells the Huffington Post why Obama is between a rock and a hard place politically.

In California, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina took her first steps to run as a Republican against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Yet the San Francisco Chronical finds that she has never voted in the past 25 years.

And in case you have been hoping for a Democratic member of Congress to argue back with his or her constituents at the rowdy town hall meetings, you're in for a treat thanks to Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA):

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Editorial: Why Aren’t We Winning On Healthcare Reform?

Dave at WAYLA ponders why Democrats have been losing the healthcare debate. Please note that these views do not necessarily represent the opinions of others at WAYLA. Possible rebuttals to this post to come.

As it was mentioned last week, healthcare has long been a winning issue for Democrats. Americans are rightfully dissatisfied with their healthcare system and they’ve long (and still) trusted Democrats to come up with solutions.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that as the economy is improving - or at least falling among the issues Americans are concerned about - the healthcare issue is rapidly rising among the public’s concerns.

I think it’s prudent to say most Americans aren’t falling for the claims coming from conservative pundits that the United States has the best healthcare system in the world.

Except over the past month support for reform seems to have declined. Confusion over whether or not to support a reform bill has risen 17% since July - most of that coming from people that once supported reform - and now the firm pro-reformers and anti-reformers are neck-and-neck in the polls.

How is that possible?

Political consultant Peter Daou wrote for the Huffington Post yesterday, and has some interesting insight as to why the conservative view is building momentum:

“Setting aside strategic errors by the Democrats (and there have been several in this fight), just look at how reform opponents have outgunned the White House using town halls, cable news, newspaper editorials, Freepers, Drudge, talk radio and chain emails. If I close my eyes, I'm transported back to my days on the Kerry campaign and the summer of Swift Boats, Purple Heart Band-Aids and rightwing attack machine antics. It's as though a half decade of technological advances disappeared in the blink of an eye. Forget Facebook and Twitter, it's all about Fox and MSNBC and CNN replaying images of angry protesters at town hall meetings railing against 'government takeovers.' It's about Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh spreading fear and fury. It's about anonymous emails zipping across the country, distorting the facts and sowing confusion…

Paradoxically, the attempts by Democrats to counter all this by sending emails to Obama's list and creating campaign-style fact-checking websites seem almost quaint by comparison. When a woman at a town hall spoke about ‘awakening a sleeping giant,’ she may as well have been alluding to the old media tools and techniques that have been dismissed by pundits and tech evangelists as anachronistic in the Internet age. Simply put, despite volumes of cyber-ink about the left's online prowess, and despite Democrats controlling the White House and Congress, the right can apparently dominate the national conversation using the same outlets they relied on five and ten years ago.”

But we beat all that in 2008! Barack Obama managed to overcome email rumors, conservative pundit fear-mongering, and all the other right-wing old-media tactics! What’s so different now?

The difference is there isn’t an electoral campaign, and because of that, all the progressive activism that put Obama over the top has come to a stand-still.

Sure, Obama may be using all sorts of New Media techniques just like he did during the campaign, but it wasn’t New Media that won him that election - it was the energized volunteers who knocked on doors and made phone calls. These are the most effective ways to communicate with voters, and - as WAYLA has said time and time again - Obama’s campaign was able to contact a whopping 37% more voters than the McCain campaign.

So why aren’t Democrats going door-to-door to talk to their neighbors about the benefits of healthcare reform? After all, wouldn’t that be the best way to solidify public approval of such legislative action?

This is where I can’t help but wish that Howard Dean was still Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Not only did he give the party’s activists energy, but he developed some of the most clever strategy imaginable.

While the GOP stayed vested in their 50%-plus-one (no exceptions) mindset, Dean pushed a 50-state strategy for his own party. In the short term it probably wasted resources on races where Democrats couldn’t win, but there was a long term goal behind it. By setting up races in every state, the Democratic Party could lay down the foundation for future success with campaign infrastructure and a network of donors and volunteers for future races. It was often criticized, but there’s evidence that it worked.

Yet the Dean brainchild that comes to mind most right now - however - is something that was called the Neighborhood Leadership Program. Neighborhood Leaders would go out into their community and identify Democrats who might want to get involved with the party. One of the benefits was it would give the Democrats a heads up in getting to know their neighbors and becoming friendly with them. It wasn’t just a campaign-year thing - it was a long-term program.

At the time I first learned about it, I must admit, it seemed fairly unnecessary. Why put volunteers through a year-round task of talking to neighbors about political issues? Now, I’m beginning to see the purpose.

When I looked at the DNC’s website today I couldn’t find anything about the Neighborhood Leadership Program. Then I visited my state party’s website, and could only find this page explaining that activists could call their members of Congress and go to town hall meetings. Just a year ago, I would have been able to sign up on either site as a Neighborhood Leader in a matter of seconds.

Evidently, that’s all changed. And now it appears that astroturf organizations are ready to not just kill healthcare reform, but climate change legislation as well. So far they’ve been getting away with it because there’s been an absence of progressive organizing.

So what happened?

Could it somehow be influenced by that old rivalry (driven by differences of opinion on strategy) between Dean and now-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel? Could it be that the current Chairman - Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) - is too busy governing his state to successfully fill the shoes of his predecessor?

Could it be a lack of initiative on the part of Organizing for America? Many Democratic activists say that OFA - the remnants of the Obama campaign - isn’t actually organizing.

I keep hearing that Democrats are just too “burned-out” to make the sort of effort that conservatives are making right now. To some extent it makes sense: now that we’re in control, we’re not fighting the power like we used to - the Republicans are. But the more I think about it, the more I can’t help but believe that’s just a bad excuse.

We pointed out earlier this month that the GOP is proportionally more motivated than the Democratic Party. But guess what? There are more Democrats out there! In fact, there are about just as many energized Democrats in this country as there are energized Republicans at the moment.

In the end I just think it comes down to leadership. Ever since Dean left, there seems to be a real vacuum in the Democratic Party.

Barack Obama told us in his victory speech that the election itself was not the change everybody was seeking, just the opportunity for change. Yes, he won, but he told supporters to continue the work they were doing as volunteers for the campaign - to continue to organize for change.

I believe that progressives are ready to do so. They’ve wanted healthcare reform for so long, and they don’t want astroturfers to kill it. But it’s going to take a little organization on top before we can organize on the bottom. Otherwise the prospects for healthcare reform look pretty dismal.

UPDATE: OFA is having an online "strategy meeting" with President Obama Thursday, according to an email sent out today by former campaign manager David Plouffe. You can RSVP, submit a question, and maybe just find out what the strategy is for winning the healthcare debate.

Top Stories: 8/18/09

Two economic minds tell the Huffington Post why they don't see recovery happening before the end of the year.

If you think the video of Rod Blagojevich singing an Elvis tune is embarrassing to the fallen politician, get this: disgraced former Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) will be on Dancing with the Stars!

Continuing the dicussion about State Legislatures, Tom Schaller at explains why Democrats aren't reaching a national majority.

John Burns, the New York Times chief foreign correspondent, is taking questions from readers about Thursday's elections in Afghanistan.

And Fox News does it again! This time they call Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) "Rep. Joke Sestak" on the scrollbar.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Political Shake-Up in Wisconsin

Today WALYA reports on local politics from Wisconsin.

Today Gov. Jim Doyle (D-WI) announced he will not be seeking a third term for the state’s highest office. When news broke of his decision over the weekend it caught many in the media by surprise.

Last month, we commented on how state Democratic incumbents across the country were at risk in 2010. Doyle’s own approval rating at the time was 43%, and not long after we finished the post, another poll revealed his approval had dropped to about 34% - with 60% of voters disapproving of his performance.

Of course, Doyle has had a fairly successful second term and he made a point of it in his announcement today, listing a wide range of successes over the past year and a half. But with the impossible predicament of this year’s budget crisis - a result of revenue shortfalls attributable to the recession - no decisions he made were going to be popular.

Now, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on the scramble for the governor’s seat:

With his decision - 15 months before the 2010 general election and lacking an heir apparent - Doyle has left potential successors on both sides enough time to run a competitive race and an open field for Democratic candidates.

Much will depend on who decides to jump in to the race for governor.

"There's no clear (Democratic) front-runner, certainly," said Joe Heim, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist.

The obvious speculations for the Democratic ticket have been on Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The liberal Badger State blog,, gives their thoughts on such candidacies:

Lieutenant Governor Barb Lawton – There’s absolutely no doubt Lt. Gov. Lawton will run to succeed Gov. Doyle. According to campaign finance documents, Lt. Gov. Lawton ended the last reporting period with $50,904.18 case on hand, and once Gov. Doyle formally announces he’s not running, you can expect to see Lt. Gov. Lawton’s fundraising kick into overdrive. Lawton’s weaknesses – as I see them – are the fact that she can be tied to the Doyle administration, and as such she’ll likely face criticism for some of Gov. Doyle’s more unpopular moves as Governor. What’s more, Lawton hasn’t proven she can shine running a campaign of her own, so it will be interesting to see how she does when her campaign isn’t tied to Gov. Doyle’s.

Representative Ron Kind – Though not a full-fledged “Blue Dog” Democrat, Rep. Kind is definitely a centrist Democrat, a fact that could aid him in the parts of Wisconsin that aren’t Milwaukee or Madison. However, I’m not sure how well known Rep. Kind is in the parts of the state that don’t include his Congressional district, and so he’d have to overcome that lack of name recognition in comparison to the other Democratic challengers.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett – Mayor Barrett ran for governor in 2002, finishing second to then-Attorney General Jim Doyle in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see Barrett throw his name into the ring for 2010. Barrett was reelected Mayor of Milwaukee in 2008 by the largest margin in 40+ years, and during his time as Milwaukee’s Mayor he’s shown he’s a capable administrator/”chief executive.”

Another potential candidate that has gotten a good deal of attention since Doyle’s intentions were leaked is Dane County (Madison) Executive Kathleen Falk, who ran against Doyle in that 2002 primary and was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for Attorney General in 2006.

Blogger “Zack W” says he wouldn’t be surprised if Falk ran again, but her loss in the “very winnable” AG race didn’t inspire confidence.

A few other names we’ve heard thrown out there are State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee) and even Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna).

Of course, none of these politicians have said whether or not they will run, but chances are there will be a very competitive Democratic primary.

And on the GOP side, there was already a very competitive primary. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker - while probably in the lead - faces a challenge from former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI) and the politically unknown Appleton businessman Mark Todd.

But this will be the first time a sitting Wisconsin governor wasn’t up for re-election in 28 years, and three Republican challengers for the seat will probably not be all we see come September 2010.

Now three more Republican names have been thrown into the mix. Two of them have confirmed that they’re considering: lobbyist Bill McCoshen and former 4-term Governor Tommy Thompson, who left in 2001 to become Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services and later a presidential candidate in 2008. Thompson has also been speculated as a possible challenger to U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) who is up for re-election next year.

And depending on who does run, it will create a ripple effect (like the one we’ve seen in Illinois) for other Wisconsin races.

If Kind runs, for example, his rural Wisconsin seat will become extremely competitive. He was already being challenged by State Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) for a seat that could easily go red in 2010 without an incumbent in the race. Depending on what candidates the Democrats can produce out there (no names have yet been mentioned) it could turn into Wisconsin’s ugliest battle next year.

Similar things could happen if or when Lawton, Erpenbach, Barrett, or any other Republicans get into the race for governor. Several replacement candidates have - no doubt - already considered the ripple effect possibilities.

It will also be interesting to watch what kind of message the Democratic candidates use to try to hold on to the seat. The Journal Sentinel seems to think that Lawton will try to engage her supporters in the progressive wing of the party while distancing herself from Doyle, and that Kind will use his moderate legislative history to bring in votes from rural areas (presumably). In other words, they will try to run on a “change” basis despite the fact that their party has been in charge.

Or, they might try to build on the successes Democrats have had in Wisconsin lately - with the Great Lakes Compact, BadgerCare expansion, etc. - and hope that they can take credit for improvements in the local economy.

The Republicans will also have to rethink their message (although Walker is telling the press otherwise) because they won’t have a sitting-incumbent to attack. And depending how what kind of improvements happen locally, primary fighting could become intense on both sides.

Either way, Doyle’s decision is going to make Wisconsin a premier battleground in 2010.

Top Stories: 8/17/09

Politico examines the history of and reasons for the GOP recruiting football stars and coaches to run for office.

With all the new confusion about whether or not health care reform will include a public option, Nate Silver examines - in-depth - the chances of such a bill passing through the Senate.

Paul Krugman contrasts how healthcare reform in this country will look compared to the healthcare systems in other industrialized nations.

And the Huffington Post is starting to gather photos of the funniest town hall protest signs. So far they’re mostly coming from liberals who showed up to make fun of the anti-reform folks.